Union

Hometown kid John McCarthy relishing time in spotlight for Union

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Hometown kid John McCarthy relishing time in spotlight for Union

CHESTER, Pa. — Before every Jamaica game in the Gold Cup, backup Union goalkeeper John McCarthy would send Andre Blake a text: “Good luck, my son.

Blake — the Union’s first-string goalie who had been with Jamaica on international duty for most of July — was quick to respond, just as he was quick to offer McCarthy luck before Union games. And he’d have no choice but to call McCarthy his “father,” as part of a very important deal they have.

“When we play ping pong, if you lose, you have to call the other person ‘father,’” McCarthy said with a laugh after Union practice Wednesday. “It’s good banter. It’s stuff like that that goes a long way. But we know we have each other’s backs.”

McCarthy may have the edge over his fellow ’keeper in ping pong of late but even he’d admit there’s no one better in goal than Blake.

That makes it more palatable for McCarthy to be the Union's backup, and it makes him hungry to try to live up to the team’s high goalkeeping standards when Blake’s away — which he mostly has over the last five games.

“Everyone wants to play,” McCarthy said. “Being a backup at any level is not fun. But I think I’m in a great situation, if not one of the best. I’m backing up the best goalkeeper in the league, and I get to train with him every day. And I try to take advantage of my opportunities when they do come.”

Although the results haven’t been there, with the team going 1-3-1 in the last five games with McCarthy starting, the Philly native certainly has made the most of his chance, making a handful of the kind of highlight-reel saves that fans are accustomed to seeing from Blake.

McCarthy — who may get his sixth straight start Saturday vs. FC Dallas if a hand injury Blake suffered in the Gold Cup final is not yet healed — said he felt like “overall it’s been a really good run,” pointing to his six-save effort in Kansas City on July 6 as “a special game” for him. 

And Union head coach Jim Curtin has been pleased to see McCarthy putting in strong performances — all while Blake emerged as one of the best players at the Gold Cup.

“Andre’s talent speaks for itself,” Curtin said. “He’s coming off an incredible Gold Cup performance. John’s done a really good job stepping up his game in a tough spot. It’s always hard to play behind someone, especially at the goalkeeper position because there’s always the waiting-your-turn aspect of it. For him to have the success he’s had speaks to all the hard work he’s put in and peaks to (goalkeeper coach) Oka Nikolov and the great work he’s done with all our goalkeepers. You’re happy for Johnny. He’s stepped up in a big way and has done a good job in the games he’s gotten.”

At one point during McCarthy’s run of games, Curtin even said the goalkeeper out of La Salle University had shown him that he can be a full-time starter in this league. And considering Blake is probably good enough to soon play in a top league in Europe, that means the Union may have their next (star?) goalie waiting patiently in the wings.

“That means a lot,” McCarthy said. “They see that I’m growing as a player. It definitely helps with the confidence when a coach gives you praise like that. At any level, that’s huge. I’m happy to hear that and I’m hoping I can keep making the coaching staff happy.”

Given Blake’s impending return to the lineup, McCarthy knows he may not get many more opportunities in games this season. But that doesn’t mean the 25-year-old can’t continue to showcase his growth and technique in practice, where he and Blake consistently offer each other friendly advice.

“Training with Andre every day is a great opportunity for me,” McCarthy said. “He was the best goalkeeper in the league last year and he might be the best goalkeeper in the league this year. … And we have no problem critiquing each other at any point in time. Even as he walks off the field, I’ll say something to him before anyone else does. It’s not like he takes it like, ‘Oh, he’s being a mean dude.’ No, we appreciate each other. It’s good because we have such a good relationship on the field.”

The two goalkeepers have such a good relationship, in fact, that when Blake returned from the Gold Cup, following his devastating injury exit from Jamaica’s title-game loss to the U.S., McCarthy “went right up to him and gave him a hug and said, ‘Dude, you deserved everything in that tournament, you were the best goalkeeper by far, man.’”

And McCarthy knows that Blake will be right there cheering him on if he gets the start vs. FC Dallas — along with many of his family members, old friends from Northeast Philly, and former teammates from La Salle. 

Just like they always do.

“It’s cool to see them all texting me, coming out to the games and really having my back, whether I’m playing or not,” McCarthy said. “Even though I’m the No. 2, I’m home.”

Forgotten Marcus Epps makes most of rare opportunity in Union win

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Forgotten Marcus Epps makes most of rare opportunity in Union win

CHESTER, Pa. — He isn't the big-money, veteran scorer the Union expected to lead them out of their offensive rut, but 23-year-old Marcus Epps was exactly what the Union needed Saturday night.

"It's definitely a process," said Epps, who had a goal and two assists in the Union's 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake at Talen Energy Stadium. "You've just gotta keep your head down and keep working. And when you get moments like this, you've just gotta capitalize."

The second-year winger did just that. Epps buried the Union's opening goal off a Fafa Picault pass, then added a pair of secondary assists for good measure. For a team that managed only eight goals in the 10 matches leading up to Saturday, Epps was a difference-maker.

"We see quality, we see a good kid that wants to get better," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We get excited when he gets on the ball. You can see how uncomfortable he can make it for defenders. We're incredibly proud of his persistence, his ability to keep going. He learned some big lessons and he's now getting the benefit of scoring big goals in front of a great crowd tonight."

Doubling his career production in one night, Epps, who had two goals and an assist in 22 games entering Saturday, started the season as low as fifth on the depth chart behind David Accam, Ilsinho, Picault and Fabian Herbers. 

Coming off a poor preseason, he didn't make the 18-man roster in the club's first seven games. 

"I knew it would come," Epps said, discussing this opportunity. "The coaching staff, they hold all the wingers in high regard. You can only just work on your game and believe in yourself and believe the chances are gonna come."

Picked 25th in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Epps earned his first start of the season last week in the form of a 75-minute, 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact. It was a roster rotation move for the Union, who were at the tail end of a three-game road swing. But against RSL, the coaches put faith in the youngster, starting him over Accam. 

"We had a long debate whether to stick with him or go back to David or Ilsinho, more experienced players," Curtin said. "But we believed in the kid, gave him an opportunity and he stepped up." 

Between his secondary assist on Borek Dockal's first-half score or his hold-up play that allowed Ilsinho to tap-in a second-half insurance tally, Epps made an impact at the perfect time for the Union. His teammates took notice. 

"I loved what I saw from him today," Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "We talked all year about how we need to push everyone. No one is guaranteed a spot on this team, whether it's me as a captain or [Designated Player] or young guy. Everyone has to fight for a position. He's been knocking on the door all season and today he showed what he's capable of."

Union, Borek Dockal crush Real Salt Lake for 2nd straight win

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Union, Borek Dockal crush Real Salt Lake for 2nd straight win

BOX SCORE 

CHESTER, Pa. — Make it two for the Union. 

With production from Borek Dockal and Marcus Epps, the Union claimed back-to-back wins for the first time this season by easily taking down Real Salt Lake, 4-1, on a foggy Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

Putting together one of their best efforts of the season, the Union move to 4-5-2, while Real Salt Lake falls to a paltry 4-6-1. 

It looked like one of those snakebitten games for the Union attack in the 20th, when they pressed furiously but were solved by Nick Rimando, who made a strong diving stop on Keegan Rosenberry and then an equally impressive save on Fafa Picault’s rebound volley. 

But despite the early heroics, Rimando wasn’t able to stop Epps just a minute later. The Union found a speed mismatch with Picault against Adam Henley on the left wing and took full advantage, as he gained the box and ripped a low cross that was cleanly finished by Epps for the 1-0 Union lead. 

Rimando was still the best player on the field for RSL despite giving up four goals. He finished with five stops, many of which were eye-popping. The mercy rule would have been enacted without him. 

The 21st minute goal was Epps’ first of the season and third of his MLS career. He made the start for struggling David Accam, who is still scoreless in 10 games this season. Epps captured two assists as well. 

Dockal kept the Union momentum rolling in the 34th, when, off the rush, he accepted a smooth lead pass from Alejandro Bedoya and gently lifted his top-of-the-box shot over Rimando to double the Union’s advantage. 

It was a deserved reward for Dockal, who was arguably the best Union player in the first half. It was his second goal in 10 games. He also added two assists for two goals and four helpers on the season. 

Despite being dominated early, RSL didn’t go home empty-handed. The visitors got one back in the 65th, when a scramble in the box allowed Sebastian Saucedo to find Damir Kreilach at the top of the box for the easy low-shot goal, to cut into the Union’s lead, 2-1.

But the Union didn’t panic. Off the rush in the 74th minute, Epps dropped a pass to Dockal that sprung the newcomer in alone with Rimando. Instead of ripping a shot, Dockal chipped a center pass to Ilsinho for the easy tap-in. It was his second of the season. 

Piling on, Rosenberry decided to show off in the 81st, when he fired off a golazo from way outside the box. The rocket shot slipped through defenders and beat Rimando clean for the 4-1 Union lead. It was Rosenberry’s first goal in his last 25 games.

While it was a convincing win, if the Union want three-in-a-row, it won’t come easy. The club hits the road once against on Saturday to take on the 6-3-0 New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena.